Sun Exposure and Cancer

Let’s discuss a recent study published elucidating some interesting facts about sun exposure, vitamin D, and cancer. Now, usually when one thinks of sun exposure and cancer, they think of skin cancer. But there is far more to sun exposure than just that.

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Sun Exposure and Cancer

Dr. Michael Ruscio: Cancer and Sun Exposure: Is There a Connection? This is Dr. Ruscio. And let’s discuss a recent study published elucidating some interesting facts about sun exposure, vitamin D, and cancer. Now, usually when one thinks of sun exposure and cancer, they think of skin cancer. But there is far more to sun exposure than just that.

Now, if you have been reading a little bit more or following any of the epidemiological literature, you have probably heard the concept that the closer you go to the equator, where there’s longer exposure to daylight, longer sunlight, stronger sunlight, and generally more exposure to sun, the incidence of certain cancers goes down. So the closer to the equator you get, the less cancer there is.

And it’s been theorized this is in part because of vitamin D and vitamin D’s immunomodulatory effects and cancer being in part an immune disregulation phenomenon.

Well, a recent study was published that had a very interesting finding. Now, the authors conclude, “We found that almost all epidemiological studies suggest that chronic, not intermittent, sun exposure is associated with reduced risk of certain kinds of cancer.”

So one of the key points they’re making here is that it may not be a bad idea to go ahead and get some sun exposure. And the word chronic is the key term there. This means that you’re not just getting five minutes in the sun. This means you’re getting 20, 30, 40, 50 minutes in the sun on most days potentially. And I’m paraphrasing there a bit.

Now, onto the findings of this study—they found that some forms of cancer were prevented because of the increased vitamin D that one experiences from sun exposure. But the interesting thing and the noteworthy finding in this study was that some forms of cancers responded to, or decreased, with sun exposure irrespective of vitamin D levels.

And so as you can see here in the table, vitamin D had a beneficial effect, or decreased colorectal cancer and breast cancer. Now, you can also see that vitamin D had no effect, but sun exposure decreased prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

So when they looked at these four cancers in the study, they found that the prostate cancer and the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma both decreased because of sun exposure. And there was no correlation to vitamin D levels.

So what this tells us is there are other beneficial, anti-cancer properties conferred by the sun outside of just the vitamin D.

So what’s your take-home? Get out in the sun. Get reasonable and responsible sun exposure. One of the things that’s recommended in the research is what’s called the minimal erythemal dose, which means get enough sun to cause a slight pigment change in your skin, a slight pinkening of the skin or a slight tanning of the skin, and that should be sufficient. You certainly never want to burn.

But I have to say, after looking at numerous studies on this topic, the touted idea that we should live like vampires and slather on the SPF-1000 and cover up all of our skin from the sun is a recommendation that may not be that intelligent.

Now, to briefly speak to the point of skin cancer, going into all the details of that is slightly beyond the scope of this video. But two things—one, we know that, yes, if you burn, you will increase your risk of certain types of skin cancer. So you never, ever want to burn.

But we also know something, and this was best articulated by the Ph.D. researcher named Tony Perrone, who said, “When we want to induce skin cancer in lab rats, we do not expose them to UVA/UVB radiation. We put chemicals on their skin.”

And if you look at many of the skin products out there today, they have either potential carcinogens, or more strongly associated, some that are called probable carcinogens. So we have that factor on the table as well as just the general environmental toxicity that has been known to promote the process of oncogenesis, or cancer promotion.

So it may not be the best recommendation to avoid the sun because of skin of cancer, because if you get responsible exposure to the sun and you avoid putting carcinogens or potential or probable carcinogens on your skin, you should have a very low risk of developing skin cancer.

So again, your take-home is get some time in the sun. Enjoy yourself a little bit.

This is Dr. Ruscio. And I hope you find this information helpful. Thanks!


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What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.

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Discussion

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8 thoughts on “Sun Exposure and Cancer

  1. Thank you Dr. Ruscio! I’ve felt for a while that slathering sunblock lotion on the body’s largest organ (the skin) was a very bad idea. When my friends ask me what kind of sunblock I use, I tell them about the one sunblock method I know of that is 100% non-carcinogenic: long sleeves and a hat! (Ever see anyone who lives in the desert?)

    But for those of us who live in more northerly climes…how do you feel about tanning beds? Various health sources propose that UV-B-heavy tanning beds can be helpful. I would be curious to hear your thoughts.

    1. Thanks Alex and good question. Two studies have shown tanning bed use to be detrimental for one’s health. Now, these were regular tanning beds. Would the same apply for UVB heavy beds? I don’t know. I would assume guilty until proven innocent here though. Focus on getting a healthy amount of sun during the sunny months. We didn’t all evolve in equatorial zones so my thinking is if we get enough during the sunny months we should be fine the rest of the year.

  2. Thank you Dr. Ruscio! I’ve felt for a while that slathering sunblock lotion on the body’s largest organ (the skin) was a very bad idea. When my friends ask me what kind of sunblock I use, I tell them about the one sunblock method I know of that is 100% non-carcinogenic: long sleeves and a hat! (Ever see anyone who lives in the desert?)

    But for those of us who live in more northerly climes…how do you feel about tanning beds? Various health sources propose that UV-B-heavy tanning beds can be helpful. I would be curious to hear your thoughts.

    1. Thanks Alex and good question. Two studies have shown tanning bed use to be detrimental for one’s health. Now, these were regular tanning beds. Would the same apply for UVB heavy beds? I don’t know. I would assume guilty until proven innocent here though. Focus on getting a healthy amount of sun during the sunny months. We didn’t all evolve in equatorial zones so my thinking is if we get enough during the sunny months we should be fine the rest of the year.

  3. Thank you Dr. Ruscio for your concise analysis. I particularly like the quote from Tony Perrone “When we want to induce skin cancer in lab rats, we do not expose them to UVA/UVB radiation. We put chemicals on their skin.” How telling.

  4. Thank you Dr. Ruscio for your concise analysis. I particularly like the quote from Tony Perrone “When we want to induce skin cancer in lab rats, we do not expose them to UVA/UVB radiation. We put chemicals on their skin.” How telling.

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